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A ‘true ambassador’ wins 2014 VIP Sunshine Award

Taxi dispatcher Aishah Muhammad is always willing to go that extra mile to help out her customers.

And her dedication to her job as an Island ambassador has now earned Ms Muhammad official recognition as the winner of the The Visitor Industry Partnership Sunshine Award.

Ms Muhammad was nominated by visitor Maria Gonzalez, who was impressed by the dispatcher's “timely friendly and professional manner” — and was made to feel completely at home during her vacation on the Island..

“This made a very good impression on me about her company and Bermuda,” Ms Gonzalez, from Ireland, said.

“A couple of days before travelling to Bermuda, I asked her if she could help me find cultural events or anywhere I could see the Gombey Dancers, also restaurants where I could try local foods like Hopping John, etc as I was more interested in getting to know Bermuda and its people than just doing the beach.

“She contacted me within 24 hours with lots of information on where to eat, what to do and even sent me a video to show me the location of the tennis courts where the Gombey Festival was going to take place.

“She even tried to arrange for me to meet Heather Nova, when she found out I was a big fan, who happened to be in town that week I was there.

“When I arrived in Bermuda, I had a very stressful time as my luggage was delayed for 24 hours.

“Aishah sent me a bag of goodies to my guest house with a sarong, T-shirt, Bermudan souvenirs, newspapers, postcards and other goodies that made my day when I had nothing to wear.

“She and her partner, Peter, came to visit me the following day and we spent a couple of hours chatting and enjoying some drinks together.

“They made me feel at home in Bermuda and they helped me realise in my first 24 hours in the island what Bermuda and its people are about.

“It was an amazing cultural exchange full of laughter and it made all my worries about the missing luggage disappear. They diffused the situation.”

And the good work didn't stop there. Ms Muhammad, a former taxi driver, later organised a boat trip for her special guest and also gave her a bag of Bermuda gifts.

“This was a gesture I did not expect at all,” Ms Gonzalez said.

“They did it out of kindness and expecting nothing in return. Their aim was to make sure I loved Bermuda and I had a great time there.

“Aishah kept calling me every day to make sure I was okay, I felt like I had a mother there, looking after me.

“She has become a friend now, she is my Bermudian friend that I will never forget.

“She is a true ambassador of Bermuda, she made me love the island and its people. We had a cultural exchange I'm proud of and I look forward to one day welcoming her in my home in Ireland.”

Ms Muhammad's work was praised by VIP Chairman Barbara O'Shaughnessy, who said the award winner “exemplifies the true Bermudian spirit of hospitality and friendship”.

Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell added: “I wish to sincerely commend Ms Aishah Muhammad for her outstanding efforts in helping to make a visitor to our shores feel so welcome.

“As a country of people who are renowned for their love of travel, I think most of us have experienced the frustration of missing luggage at some point or another — if only we all had a ‘Ms Muhammad' at those times to pop up with a goody bag and something to wear.

“These kinds of stories really warm my heart and encapsulate the spirit of Bermuda.”

Tourism Authority Chairman David Dodwell was equally impressed.

“If everyone in Bermuda treated our visitors in the same manner that Aisha treated Ms Gonzales — not as a stranger, but as a friend she just hadn't met yet — there would be queues at every gateway airport for flights to Bermuda,” he said.

Tourism Authority CEO Bill Hanbury suggested that Ms Muhammad's approach harked back to the glory days of tourism.

“In the short length of time that I have been with the Bermuda Tourism Authority, I have listened to a few of the talk shows, read the letters to the editors and talked to many people from all walks of life,” Mr Hanbury said.

“There is nostalgia and a yearning that imbues the community for the heyday of tourism in Bermuda.

“Perhaps it is a wish not only for the economic advantages, but also for the respect, excitement and friendliness that visitors found when they came to these shores.

“We need a renewal of that warmth and friendliness so that people just can't stay away from us.

“Aishah Mohammad epitomises the inherent personality of Bermudians — proud of their country, proud of their heritage with a need and a joy to share their island with others.”

Ms. Muhammad received a VIP Sunshine Award Pin and a congratulatory lunch at the Victoria Grill compliments of the Island Restaurant Group.

In addition to her celebratory lunch and Sunshine Award pin, Ms. Muhammad will be treated to a hotel stay at the beautiful Newstead Belmont Hills Golf Resort & Spa, complete with dinner and breakfast, compliments of Mr Bushara Bushara, General Manager.

Last night a humble Ms Muhammad thanked Ms Gonsalves for the nomination and the VIP committee for recognising her.

But she pointed out that others played their part in ensuring the visitor had a memorable holiday, including airport personnel, taxi drivers and public transport staff “who all ensured their safe travel while in Bermuda's care”.

“Maria expressed a strong desire to see the Gombeys so I let her know about the Bermuda Gombey exhibition which was so absolutely timely and well put together,” Ms Muhammad said.

“She had a fantastic time. The management and staff at Greenbanks guest house were phenomenal. I visited the Greenbanks property with my friend and fellow Bermudian Peter Faries where we spent time with Maria and her friends on a social call. We witnessed first-hand how well they were taken care of at their Bermuda residence.

Ms Muhammad also thanked customer service representatives “be they restaurant servers, sales associates and the like”.

“It is clearly evident of how important it is for us all in any hospitality position to treat one another like we would expect to be treated. This extends to our visitors as well as our fellow Bermudians.

“From the time my parents sent me to those Saturday morning Brownie meetings at the age of 9 a desire to do anything I could to help others have good experiences began to develop in my core.

So, based upon the foundation instilled in me by that organisation I developed into a person who is always willing to help other people in any way that I can.

“I'm very proud to be a Bermudian and I love Bermudian hospitality. To allow the simple gesture of hospitality to be an extension of my personality is truly a gift. My purpose in marketing Bermuda is that our visitors always remember their Bermuda vacation. I definitely view my position as a position of trust. I never think of doing something for someone else as going out of my way — I think of it as going all the way.

“I fully agree that Bermuda must be about change in keeping with the rest of the world but one thing that must never change is our Bermudian hospitality.”

Pinning the winner: VIP Chairman Barbara O'Shaughnessy, Tourism Minister Shawn Crockwell, 2014 Sunshine Award Winner Aishah Mohammad and Tourism Authority CEO Bill Hanbury.

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Published March 28, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated March 27, 2014 at 11:44 pm)

A ‘true ambassador’ wins 2014 VIP Sunshine Award

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